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The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture Paperback – August 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"Many books have been written either defending or detracting from an evangelical view of the Bible. Christian Smith, as a trained sociologist, offers a much-needed perspective: explaining evangelical biblicism as a sociological phenomenon. Smith demonstrates, respectfully but critically, that the type of biblicism that often characterizes evangelicalism cannot account for how scripture itself behaves. Biblicism is retained, however, because of its sociological value for 'maintaining safe identity boundaries.' Smith's analysis of the problem of biblicism and his offer of a way forward are important contributions to the current developments surrounding evangelicalism and the Bible."--Peter Enns, author, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament

"Christian Smith plainly says what so many others have been thinking or implying for some time--namely, that many strands of evangelicalism believe things about the Bible and theology that are simply impossible. Smith exposes the scholastic alchemy that holds this fragile theological edifice together and helps us understand that serious damage is done to the church and its witness when we perpetuate the errors of biblicism."--Kenton L. Sparks, Eastern University

"Smith vigorously presents a compelling possibility: The Bible could be more alive, the church could be more unified, those of us who care deeply about scripture could be less fearful about some collapse of authority and more honest about what is actually in the Bible if we simply began to listen with more humility and openness to what it is God seems most concerned to reveal. A great book for this time in the life of evangelicalism."--Debbie Blue, pastor, House of Mercy; author, Sensual Orthodoxy and From Stone to Living Word --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

"Evangelicalism is cracking apart not because of theological drift to the left but because the only theology that can sustain a genuine evangelicalism is--to use the only word appropriate--a catholic theology. Many who were nurtured in American evangelicalism (as Christian Smith was) and now find it seriously deficient (as Christian Smith does) seem to be those on whom the light has dawned. Here is a genuinely evangelical catholic understanding of scripture."
--Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary

"Biblicism remains one of the most entrenched and pressing problems facing the church. In his characteristically lucid, direct, and fair-minded fashion, Christian Smith asks questions about biblicism that need to be answered. Smith also begins to articulate an alternative, Christ-centered approach to biblical interpretation that is supremely constructive--a truly evangelical account of scripture."
--Douglas A. Campbell, Duke University Divinity School

"Given the importance and influence of evangelicalism in American religion and culture, this book is both a healthy corrective and a hopeful sign of positive developments within evangelicalism."
--Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, America

"Ever the sociologist, Smith forces readers to confront and account for the stubborn fact that not everyone who ascribes supreme authority to 'what the Bible says' hears God saying the same thing. Even those, like me, who are not persuaded by his 'truly evangelical' alternative will benefit from this strong dose of realism about the way in which evangelicals actually interpret and appeal to the Bible."
--Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"[A] finely constructed volume. . . . Smith makes a persuasive case for shifting one's focus from the sole authority of the words of scripture to the one whom scripture proclaims to be 'the way, the truth and the life.' Such a shift, he insists, is necessary for American evangelicalism to move forward."
--Publishers Weekly

This edition includes a new afterword in which the author engages conversations stimulated by the hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Brazos Press; Reprint edition (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158743329X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587433290
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #492,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of many books, including What is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up (Chicago 201); Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Do Not Give Away More Money (OUP 2008); Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (OUP 2005), Winner of the 2005 "Distinguished Book Award" from Christianity Today; and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture (OUP 2003).

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For some time now, I have been aware of the interpretive quagmire that exists in the Protestant world, but I have been unable to construct a model that fully explains it. Christian Smith's book has done that for me. I limit my remarks to the Protestant world, because it is that world that proclaims the principle of sola scriptura yet cannot find common agreement. (The Catholics and Orthodox have their own set of problems to deal with.)

I was once satisfied with the Evangelical mantra so often used to excuse the diversity of Biblical interpretation - "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity," but then, that was when I thought as a child. Smith has clearly debunked that common rationalization by carefully analyzing the axioms of Biblicism and finding them to be wanting as illustrated by the widespread interpretive diversity we find among Evangelicals even in the essentials.

It is his view that Evangelicals have to come to terms with the Biblicist model of the scriptures because that model can't deliver what it is supposed to be able to deliver. However, the fact that it can't deliver unity of understanding is not actually Smith's primary objection. His real objection is to the tenets of Biblicism that suggest that the Bible is so plain, uncomplicated, cohesive, and internally consistent that it SHOULD produce a consensus of meaning. He presents the challenge in this way: "If the Bible is given by a truthful and omnipotent God as an internally consistent and perspicuous text precisely for the purpose of revealing to humans correct beliefs, practices, and morals, then why is it that the presumably sincere Christians to whom it has been given cannot read it and come to common agreement about what it teaches?
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Format: Hardcover
I could not put this book down. And after reading it through the first time, I brought it with me to the pool the next day and read it again! While affirming Scripture's inspiration and authority, Smith says out loud what any number of Evangelical readers of Scripture have been wondering about and puzzling over for a long time: if Scripture is so clear, so sufficient, etc., then why are we divided into so many denominations? And, perhaps more troubling still, why are we so increasingly unconcerned with our lack of real unity on any number of important theological issues? His description of our substantive disunity here is overwhelming. If you have not heard of the concept of "pervasive interpretive pluralism", get ready, you will in the future. Smith's charitable, well-argued, thoroughly researched book challenges readers of Scripture finally to admit that there is a difference between the truth of Scripture and their opinions about it. Adding a sociological dimension to the argument, he shows why so many are so reluctant to do this. In the end, having shown how nonsensical it is to consider the Bible as simply some divinely authorized how-to manual or rule book for this or for that (e.g., parenting, dating, finances, dieting, leadership, end-times, etc.--you should see the list!), his final chapters begin to create a sound framework for a purely Christological reading of Scripture (with a nod to Barth and others). Such a framework, he demonstrates convincingly, would in fact bring readers closer to a truly Evangelical reading of Scripture, while it would also prepare them to consider every aspect of life in light of Christ, his person and work. I will absolutely refer to this book again and will assign it in appropriate courses in the future.
Steven A. Hunt
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Format: Hardcover
In this book, Christian Smith does a great job presenting the problems of Biblicism, and making a few suggestions for how we can correct these problems, and begin reading Scripture in a better light.

In Part 1, Smith spends four chapters talking about the problems of "biblicism." Biblicism consists of the constellation of beliefs and practices surrounding the way most Christians in the United States view and use the Bible. Among other concepts, biblicism contains the ideas of the Bible as the inspired Word of God, the inerrancy of Scripture, the ability of anyone to read and understand Scripture, the inductive method of Bible study to find the universal truth within Scripture, and above all, the idea that the Bible contains all the truth we need for Christian belief and practice.

Christian Smith shows convincingly that the goals and claims of biblicism have not worked, and so it is an impossible way of viewing and reading Scripture. It has great ideas and goals, but it just doesn't work.

His primary evidence for this is the wide diversity in opinions on all theological and practical matters among those who hold to biblicism. The claim is often made that we agree on the major issues, and only disagree on the minor. But this is demonstrably false, as Christian Smith shows. There is almost no agreement on any single issue.

The goals of biblicism have failed, and so biblicism as a way of approaching Scripture is false.

In Part 2, Christians Smith goes on to provide three suggestions for helping us view, read, and study the Bible in a way that allows for the complexity of Scripture while maintaining its authoritative role in our lives.
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